Ohio Farm Bureau delegates weigh in on raw milk debate

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COLUMBUS – The 329 delegates to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting last week faced 267 pages of proposed state and national policies. And they almost didn’t get past page 7.
The delegates, meeting Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, squared off on the issue of raw milk sales directly to consumers.
The Farm Bureau policy development committee proposed reversing the group’s existing policy that supported the licensing of raw milk retailers in Ohio.
It’s an opportunity. Not so fast, said Geauga County’s Gerald Mitchell, who proposed an amendment calling on Ohio Farm Bureau to help author a plan for legitimate raw milk sales.
“This is a niche market,” Mitchell said.
The amendment was also championed by Paulding County’s Ralph Schlatter, who said production and sanitation methods have changed from the conditions that triggered the pasteurizing regulation.
“We’re beyond open bucket milking,” Schlatter said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Risk too high. But Tuscarawas County delegate Connie Finton responded that the science doesn’t support the risk.
“The dairy industry strongly stands for sound science,” Finton said, “and sound science says you can’t safely consume raw milk.”
Veterinarian Jerry Lahmers, another Tuscarawas County delegate, backed her claims, saying a cow’s salmonella or listeriosis infection can be passed through her milk for a period and there is no real daily test to detect it.
“No one gets good immunity from these things,” Lahmers added. “It’s not the old diseases we have to worry about, it’s the new ones.”
Schlatter warned of consequences if Ohio closes its door to raw milk sales options.
“This issue is not going to go away,” he said. “It will go underground.”
No sales. After debating a policy amendment for nearly half an hour on the first day of policy development, and returning to the issue the next day, delegates supported new policy that opposes the sale of raw milk to consumers.
Other key issues. Delegates also decided term limits aren’t working in the Ohio Statehouse, and created policy that opposes term limits for state legislators.
They also showed some “ethanol exuberance,” as organization president Bob Peterson called it, and voiced support of tax credits and other incentives to develop alternative energy sources, and to expedite the permitting process for renewable fuel plants. They also supported tax credits for energy generated on the farm.
The farm representatives also called for an extensive review of, and recommended changes to, the state’s drainage laws.
The farm group also reaffirmed its support of the Current Agricultural Use Value program, expressing concern that certain changes to the program would erode the value of the program, which taxes real estate based on its agricultural use, rather than its current development, or market, use.
Looking ahead. With an eye toward the 2007, Peterson said next year, particularly the battle for the next farm bill, will be a lot like the 2006 crop harvest: “tough, difficult, tiring, but potentially very rewarding.”
He’s seeing lots of interest in the next farm bill from nonfarm groups, adding that many of these groups are focused and already hard at work.
The bad news is that agriculture has varied interests, and that can frustrate legislators.
“We aren’t united in agriculture, by any means.” And that, Peterson said, could hurt the farm community since few legislators remain on the Hill who have experience writing a farm bill.
That lack of focus can also be seen at the state level.
“Quite frankly, we need to work harder,” Peterson challenged the Farm Bureau members. “We need to change some of our tactics.”
Makeover. Peterson’s words were repeated a few hours later by Jack Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president.
“We need to take the steps needed to move from being good to being great,” Fisher said.
He pointed to a new task force charged to report to the board in 10 months with recommendations for revamping the farm organization’s structure and programming.
Fisher said he has made administrative structural changes already, reorganizing the state office and reassigning employees.
Trustee elections. At the close of the annual meeting, Bob Peterson was re-elected to his third full one-year term as the group’s president. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Two new trustees will join the state Farm Bureau board. Daryl Knipp of Lindsey was elected to represent Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky and Wood counties. He succeeds Ed Lamalie, who retired after serving 15 years on the state board.
In southern Ohio, Joyce Payne of Waterloo was elected to represent Athens, Gallia, Lawrence and Meigs counties. She follows Vickie Powell, who was not seeking re-election after serving six years on the board.
Re-elected to the board were:
Charles Lausin of Thompson, representing Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Trumbull counties; Don Ralph, Morral, representing Crawford, Marion, Morrow and Richland counties; Jeff Zellers of Hartville, representing Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage and Stark counties; Brent Porteus of Coshocton, representing Coshocton, Holmes, Knox and Licking counties; Joe Pittman, New Concord, representing Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and Perry counties; Nathan Ewing of Waverly, representing Jackson, Pike, Scioto and Vinton counties; Gale Betterly of Richfield, representing the northeast women’s region; and Judy Loudenslager of Marion, representing the northwest women’s region.
Zellers, who is starting his third three-year term as trustee, will also serve his second one-year term as vice president. He previously was OFBF’s treasurer.
Porteus will serve his second one-year term as treasurer.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

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